Iowa Football: 5 Reasons the Hawkeyes' Bowl Streak Will End
Since 1981, the Iowa Hawkeyes have received bowl invitations in all but seven seasons, including a current run of four years in a row. Previous coach Hayden Fry led the revitalization of the program, and current coach Kirk Ferentz has continued to build on Fry's success since 1999.
In the world of college football, where the entire team is rebuilt every four to five years, every program must endure the occasional rough patch.
Though the Hawkeyes have been able to avoid such droughts for a while now, the program has entered a rebuilding period that could mean lean times and an end to the Hawkeye's bowl streak.
Here we look at five reasons why Hawkeyes fans should get ready for a rough year.
2 New Coordinators
In February, the Hawkeyes lost longtime offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe to the Miami Dolphins, where he will serve as the team's new wide receivers coach. Replacing O'Keefe is Greg Davis, who coordinated the offense at the University of Texas from 1998 to 2010.
While O'Keefe was greatly successful in Iowa City, Davis could be an upgrade. He led the high-powered offense of the 2005 team that won the national championship, called the plays for Ricky Williams' Heisman-winning season and helped develop both Vince Young and Colt McCoy into national stars.
But as much success as Davis has achieved, it is never easy for a college team to transition from one offensive scheme to another. It will take time for Davis to impart his style to his offensive players.
Davis is also used to coaching some of the most elite recruits in the country, while Iowa has only compiled one of Scout.com's Top 25 recruiting classes once in the past five years (25th in 2011). Davis will have to adapt to a slightly lower level of talent among his incoming players.
The Hawkeyes will also have a new look on defense, as another longtime coach, defensive coordinator Norm Parker, decided to retire. This change should be a little less dramatic than the offensive change, as Norm was replaced by Phil Parker, a member of the Iowa coaching staff for over a decade.
The defense will not look exactly the same, but Phil Parker worked for a long time under Norm Parker and likely shares many of his ideas about defense. Still, expect some degree of a transition as the defensive players adjust to a new coach.
Moving on Without McNutt
Iowa's passing game promises to be their greatest asset in the 2012 season.
Senior quarterback James Vandenberg was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football last season, passing for 3022 yards with 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Keenan Davis also had a strong year, gaining 713 yards and scoring four touchdowns, and he will be Vandenberg's top target. Yet as promising as Davis is, it will be difficult to make up for the loss of Marvin McNutt, the greatest receiver in Hawkeyes history.
McNutt caught 82 passes in 2011 for 1315 yards and 12 touchdowns. Davis's numbers will surely improve this year as he is now the primary target, but it's extremely unlikely that Davis can come anywhere close to McNutt's performance in 2011.
Davis will have the help of sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley (30 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns in 2011), senior Steven Staggs (five catches for 45 yards and zero scores in 2011) and junior Jordan Cotton (one catch for four yards and no touchdowns in 2011). With the exception of Davis, this is a very green group of receivers whose combined numbers don't come anywhere close to McNutt's output.
Without McNutt to throw to, Vandenberg will find it much tougher to move the ball downfield than it was last season.
Untested Running Backs, and Not Enough of Them
The running back situation was already looking dire for the Hawkeyes heading into 2012 due to the suspension and transfer of Marcus Coker—one of the best running backs in the Big Ten last year—and then newly named starter Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL in spring practice and was ruled out for the season.
To make matters worse, top recruit Greg Garmon was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, has yet to arrive on campus and likely will not until after his court date in Pennsylvania on July 18.
That leaves the Hawkeyes with three plausible options at running back: sophomore Damon Bullock, sophomore De'Andre Johnson and true freshman Barkley Hill.
None are attractive options.
Bullock has ten career rushes for 20 yards and no scores. Johnson has slightly more experience with 79 yards on 18 attempts and zero touchdowns. Barkley Hill was named a 2-star recruit and the 131st best running back in his recruiting class by ESPN.com.
If Garmon's situation is settled and he is cleared to play in the fall, the Hawkeyes' situation will improve quite a bit, as he could likely compete for playing time in the team's depleted depth chart.
His late arrival in Iowa City surely won't help him beat out Bullock or Johnson, and the university is likely to be very cautious with potential disciplinary issues due to what Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer calls the Curse of the Iowa Running Back.
Unsteady Special Teams
Eric Guthrie had punted the ball only once in a college football game before becoming the starter and turning in a credible performance last year. His average of 41.2 yards per punt was sixth best in the Big Ten last season.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, Guthrie's time on the Hawkeyes is done. Replacing him is John Wienke, a senior who was a backup quarterback for the team.
The team's placekicker, Michael Meyer, has much more experience than Wienke, but he has had his struggles. After a freshman season in which he made 14 of 17 field goal attempts and went 31 for 33 in extra point attempts, Meyer had a bit more trouble getting the ball between the uprights in his sophomore campaign, making 14 of 20 field goal attempts.
Iowa's coaches split control of the special teams between defensive backs coach Darrell Wilson and running backs coach Lester Erb.
The unit has struggled for years now, and it's time for the Hawkeyes to find someone who will focus all of his attention on strengthening Iowa's special teams.
The great majority of the members of the Iowa football program are upstanding student athletes with zero character concerns. Unfortunately, Iowa has had far too many bad apples in recent years, and headlines detailing the arrests of players have become all too common.
In 2010, Sports Illustrated researched the programs of their preseason Top 25 teams to determine how many of the players on the roster had been charged with crimes. While programs like TCU, Stanford, and Texas had between zero and two players with charges against them, Iowa had an astounding 18 players who had been charged with crimes, tied with Arkansas for second most in the study.
Iowa's football program obviously has a problem either in judging character during recruitment or in controlling the behavior of its student athletes. This problem isn't just an embarrassment to the school, but also hurts the quality of play on the football field.
As we've seen in the Marcus Coker situation, it's impossible for a program to have consistency and to develop players for future success if the depth chart is regularly being rocked by sudden dismissals and transfers.
The Iowa Hawkeyes have a proud tradition, but their embarrassing lack of institutional control is hurting them both on and off the football field and will continue to be a problem until the university attacks the problem at its roots.